State-Sanctioned Propaganda: Iran Completes its Third Holocaust Cartoon Collection

  • January 4, 2021

By David Andrew Weinberg

On New Year’s Day, Iranian officials acting with the support of Supreme Leader Khamenei released the full results of Iran’s third major collection of political cartoons aimed at promoting Holocaust denial.  Past contests on this horrendous topic were notoriously held with Iranian state support in 2006 and 2016.

Yet again, Iran’s effort came in response to a European publication promoting offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed – most recently, following an announcement by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that it would republish its 2015 cartoons on the subject.  And as in previous cases, Iranian officials made clear that their intention was two-fold: to challenge Europe’s approach to freedom of speech that permits demeaning Islam’s messenger but forbids Holocaust denial; plus also asserting that Palestinians were unfairly forced to pay for European crimes, thus reinforcing the regime’s narrative that the State of Israel is illegitimate.

This one, comprehensive cartoon contest was originally going to be titled The Compensation for the Holocaust (although some sources translated it into English as The Atonement of the Holocaust).  However, events intervened, and the effort was consequently split into two separate collections.

The first intervening event was the Kingdom of Bahrain’s normalization announcement with the State of Israel and joining the United Arab Emirates for a historic signing ceremony with Israel on the White House lawn.  As a result, when Tehran’s cartoon contest was formally launched on September 22nd its title was changed to Palestine is Not Alone.  Holocaust denial and Charlie Hebdo were mentioned as possible themes during the contest’s launch event but were not officially part of the contest categories or submission criteria.

Second, French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed “we will not give up cartoons” at a memorial for a teacher killed by an extremist for showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons to his class.  Tehran took this as Macron’s endorsement of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad, as well as a renewed reason to resuscitate its Holocaust denial effort to mobilize anger at France. 

Although the Palestine is Not Alone contest was already scheduled to stay open for submissions until December, in the meantime organizers announced the urgent launch of a separate, smaller collection of materials focused specifically on condemning Macron.  It was titled The Lies of the Holocaust and aimed at generating posters for an incendiary protest at France’s Embassy in Tehran.

Holocaust Denial

Cartoons promoted in connection with Iran’s Holocaust Lies collection and the demonstration in Tehran encouraged Holocaust denial, antisemitic tropes, and demonization of French President Macron in numerous grotesque and intolerant ways.  Many portrayed him as a long-nosed, devious tool of international Jewry, a snake-tongued or devilish monster, and a purveyor of filth and even Nazism itself.  In many instances, the cartoons explicitly cited recent remarks on the subject by Iran’s supreme leader, suggested exploitation or exaggeration of the Nazi genocide, and bloodsucking Jews.

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Graphic published by the website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on October 28, 2020.  Text in Persian translates to “Why is doubting the Holocaust a crime?  And if someone writes something about this, he must go to jail, but [someone who is] insulting the Messenger (PBUH) goes free? -Sayyid Ali Khamenei, October 28, 2020.”

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Cartoon by Ali Shaabani, published by Iranian House of Cartoon as well as by Mehr News Agency on October 28, 2020. White text in Persian under the title “Holoca Hebdo” translates to “A Magazine with Nothing and without Responsibility.”

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Cartoon by Mohammed Hossein Niroumand, published by Iranian House of Cartoon as well as by Mehr News Agency on October 28, 2020.  Text in French on the flag translates to “The Lies of the Holocaust”.  Text in Persian on the limp figure translates to “The Lie of the Holocaust”.  Text in French on the bottom translates to “Macron: ‘We will not renounce caricatures and drawings’.”  Text in Persian on the top left translates to “Macron: ‘We will not stop supporting caricature and its designers’.”

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Cartoon by Mohammed Hossein Niroumand, published by Iranian House of Cartoon as well as by Mehr News Agency on October 28, 2020.  Text in French on top translates to “Macron: ‘We will not renounce caricatures and drawings’.”  Like the text in English at bottom, the text in Persian just above that is a portmanteau combining the words “Macron” and “Coronavirus”.

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Cartoon by Mohammed Hossein Niroumand, published by Iranian House of Cartoon as well as by Mehr News Agency on October 28, 2020. Text in French on the flag translates to “The Lies of the Holocaust”.  Text in French and Persian toward the bottom right translates to “The Lies of the Holocaust”.  Text in French and Persian on the middle left translates to “Cartoon Exhibition.”  Text in French on the bottom translates to “Macron: ‘We will not renounce caricatures and drawings’.”  Text in Persian on the top left translates to “Macron: ‘We will not stop supporting caricature and its designers’.”

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Cartoon by Mohammed Hossein Niroumand, published by Iranian House of Cartoon on October 31, 2020.  Text on top is the same in English and Persian.  Text in French on bottom translates to “The Lies of the Holocaust” and “Macron: ‘We will not renounce caricatures and drawings’.”

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Cartoon by Masoud Shojaei-Tabatabai, published by Iranian House of Cartoon as well as by Mehr News Agency on October 28, 2020. Text in French below the title translates to “A Magazine with Nothing and without Responsibility.”  Text in Persian in the speech bubble translates to “We will not renounce caricatures and drawings.”  Text in Persian in the figure’s stomach translates to “The Lies of the Holocaust”.

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Cartoon by Mohammed Ali Rajabi, published by Fars News Agency on October 26, 2020, with the title “the new Fascism!”.

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Cartoon published by Farhang-e Honar News on October 29, 2020.

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Cartoon published by Tasnim News Agency on October 26, 2020.  Persian word on the book shown on the top right translates to “The Holocaust”.  Persian text on the sign on the bottom right is the word for “Islam”.  Persian text in the speech bubble above Macron translates to “my job is to defend some of your values!!”  Persian text on the top left translates to: “Islamophobia: the reason for the President of French Republic’s evasion of responsibility and service to the Zionists.”

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Cartoon published by Hawzah Information Base on November 1, 2020, based on a graphic published by Iran’s Farhikhtegan newspaper associated with Islamic Azad University on September 4, 2020.  The Persian text toward the top right translates to “A Caricature of Freedom of Speech: Emmanuel Macron, as representing Western politicians, they defend Charlie Hebdo’s obscene caricatures while history shows that they consider issues related to the Zionists as serious red lines.”

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Cartoon by Maziar Bizhani, published by Iranian House of Cartoon on November 4, 2020, titled “the Holocaust business.”

Consequently, when Iran’s international call for submissions to its other collection, Palestine is Not Alone, came due in December and were finally posted online on New Year’s Day, Holocaust Denial was but one of the many antisemitic messages contained in that set of 800-plus images.  However, the Holocaust-related bigotry in those materials still came through quite clearly. 

One image glorified the notorious French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy in a gallery of what it called “The free men of the world, supporters of Palestine, against Israel” that also included several terrorist leaders.  Several compared Israel or Western nations to Nazis, and numerous others argued that Israel was fundamentally illegitimate or engaged in genocide.

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Cartoon attributed to Luis Mendiguren (Spain), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon..

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Cartoon attributed to Mohammad Saman Souli (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. The Persian text on the sign Macron is holding translates to “freedom of expression,” while the rooster representing the French nation is wearing a muzzle.  Given the particular context, this cartoon suggests that Macron champions freedom of expression for insults against Islam, while preventing the French nation from denying the Holocaust.  

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Cartoon attributed to Seyed Mohammad Reza Amiri (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  Roger Garaudy (bottom, listed here as “Roje Garaudy”) was one of the most well-known Holocaust deniers in modern Europe.

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Cartoon attributed to Ridha H. Ridha (Germany), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Hossein Naghib (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Luis Mendiguren (Spain), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Mahmood Nazari (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

 

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Cartoon attributed to Mahmoud Bazdar (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. Given the particular context, this cartoon seems aimed at advancing the competition’s second theme: namely, that the Palestinian people have been forced to compensate for European crimes, and that the State of Israel is fundamentally illegitimate.

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Cartoon attributed to Sajad Rafeei (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Ridha H. Ridha (Germany), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to “Tahmasebi Palestine” (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Virginia Cabras Alagon (Ireland), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Heibat Ahmadi (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

Antisemitism

Iran’s Palestine is Not Alone cartoon contest also provided a platform for propagating antisemitic bigotry of all kinds.  For example, every one of the seven antisemitic tropes outlined in ADL’s Antisemitism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era were promoted through the contest: not just Holocaust denial but also power, disloyalty, greed, deicide, blood, and anti-Zionist bigotry.  Examples include images promoting a stereotype of Israeli Jews, the Jewish people, or Zionists as greedy, controlling America, betraying peace overtures with butchery, drinking blood, or as Christ-killers, and portraying Zionism as fundamentally violent.

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Cartoon attributed to Naji Benaji (Morocco), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Igor Kolgarev (Russia), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Benhariza Abdelghani (Bangladesh), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Hadi Zibaee (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Makhmud Eshonkulov (Uzbekistan), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Sadik Pala (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  This cartoon was also published as part of Iran’s cartoon contest back in 2016.

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Cartoon attributed to Baker al-Hashki (Jordan), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Haneen Amassie (Palestine), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Ibrahim Halil Sayan (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Makhmud Eshonkulov (Uzbekistan), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Tammam Darwish (Syria), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Mustafa Yildiz (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Shibu Cheriapadath (India), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

Furthermore, Iran’s Palestine is Not Alone international cartoon contest propagated a broad array of other egregiously antisemitic materials as well.  Many of the examples engage in demonization or dehumanization of Jews, Zionists, or the Jewish state, for example comparing them to devils, diseases, machines, scorpions, sharks, snakes, or vermin.

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Cartoon attributed to Robab Fazel (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  The text shown in Persian and in English are effectively the same.

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Cartoon attributed to Oarasenko Valeri (Russia), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Sener Tosun (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Beguem Dokuzlar (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Ehsan Cheraghi Iranshahi (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

 

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Cartoon attributed to Hossein Rahimkhani (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Hossein Rahimkhani (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Iman Nourinajafi (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Ismail Dogan (Belgium), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Mitra Derakhshandeh (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. The text shown in Persian and in English are effectively the same.

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Cartoon attributed to Musa Keklik (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Musa Keklik (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Yuksel Cengiz (Turkey), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Qasim Qapalan (Iraq), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Siminoga Vadim (Ukraine), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

Additionally, while it is not surprising the contest’s organizers encouraged caricatures aimed at demeaning Arab leaders past or present who have made peace with Israel, it is striking how many of these images portrayed such peacemakers as scandalous agents of the Jews.  Additionally, many of these images applied classic antisemitic tropes to Bahraini, Emirati, Jordanian or Egyptian leaders, depicting them as bloodthirsty, devilish, greedy, and monstrous. 

Notably, a cartoon that generated controversy when it was published by the New York Times and then withdrawn for showing U.S. President Donald Trump being led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was also reposted by the contest in its section of caricature submissions.

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Cartoon attributed to Alireza Bagheri (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Shahram Shirzadi (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Muhammad Basri (Indonesia), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Arash Foroughi (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Mahdi Akbari (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Mohammad Khouban (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Faisal Hidayat (Indonesia), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Muhammad Saiful (Indonesia), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Ridha H. Ridha (Germany), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Antounio Antunes (Portugal), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. Cartoon was previously published and then removed by The New York Times.

Incitement to Violence

Perhaps what makes this dehumanizing propaganda so dangerous is that it also is used to legitimize Iran’s support for terrorism to destroy the Jewish state.  Indeed, one of the contest’s organizers invoked the memories of several terrorist leaders at its launch event in September, presenting it as part of a “cultural and artistic war against the evil regime of Israel.”

A handful of cartoons promoted by the contest went so far as to call for the destruction of Israel – and, in one case, to call for the destruction of the United States of America as well.  One lifts up an old quote from the Islamic Republic’s late founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, calling “Israel and its dangerous agents… an abscess of corruption in the heart of the Islamic countries” that threatens them and “must be eliminated”.  A second image advances a more recent quote from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Israel’s “foundations are extremely loose” and that “the regime is condemned to disappear.” 

Another cartoon shows armed fighters at al-Aqsa Mosque with shirts that say “freedom with blood” putting ballots in a box that says “Public referendum for all Palestinians: from the river to the Nile”.  Likewise, a similar submission displays on it a long Khamenei quote that includes the phrase “from the River to the Nile” as well, and another uses a Khamenei quote condemning “the fake regime of Israel” and calling it a “dirty page in history which will be closed.”

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Cartoon attributed to Zeinab Rabanikhah (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  It includes an old quote from Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini calling “Israel and its dangerous agents… an abscess of corruption in the heart of the Islamic countries” that threatens them and “must be eliminated”. 

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Cartoon attributed to Hamid Qorbanpour (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  It includes a more quote from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Israel’s “foundations are extremely loose” and that “the regime is condemned to disappear

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Cartoon attributed to Mikaeil Barati (Iran) , published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. Although one of the individuals depicted by the cartoon is putting a ballot into a box that is labeled with Arabic text that translates to “public referendum for all Palestinians,” the Arabic subtitle on that ballot box displays the slogan “From the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River,” which would effectively mean the elimination of the State of Israel.  Furthermore, the individual casting that ballots is shown in front of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem wearing an assault rifle, and four of the five individuals in the poster are wearing shirts with an Arabic slogan on them that translates to “freedom with blood.”

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Cartoon attributed to Baker al-Hashki (Jordan), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  Also separately published by Iranian House of Cartoon attributed to Zeinab Rabanikhah (Iran).  The text on the bottom left is a quote in Persian from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that includes the phrase “From the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea,” which would effectively mean the elimination of the State of Israel.

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Cartoon attributed to Farhad Gharamaleki (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Hamed Maghrouri (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  The large text in Persian translates to “The Fake Regime of Israel”.  The smaller text in Persian below that is a quote from Ali Khamenei that translates as follows: “a nation was driven from their home and hut, and in their place, replaced by another group from all over the world.  A real entity was ignored, and a fake entity sits in its place.  But this is another dirty page in history which will be closed, with the assistance of God Exalted.”

Other content from Iran’s Palestine is Not Alone contest contained propaganda glorifying support for major terrorist organizations that seek to eliminate the Jewish state, attack Jewish communities, or engage in other acts of terrorism.  Various logos glorify a broad array of U.S.-designated terrorist entities, including Hamas and its use of precision-guided missiles, Lebanese Hizballah, Hizballah Brigades in Iraq, Harakat al-Nujaba in Iraq, Iran’s IRGC and the late head of its Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani.  Disturbingly, in one image Soleimani is even depicted strolling along Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

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Cartoon attributed to Leila Niroumand (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. The text shown in Persian and in English are effectively the same.

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Cartoon attributed to Robab Fazel (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  The text shown in Persian and in English are effectively the same.  The logos on the two arm patches, from left to right, represent Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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Cartoon attributed to Pedram Farokhnia (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. The text shown in Persian and in English are effectively the same.

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Cartoon attributed to Zeinab Rabanikhah (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.  The text on top is a quote from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at his 2019 meeting with senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri.  It translates from Persian as follows: “Not so many years ago, the Palestinians fought using stones, but today in place of stones, they are equipped with precision-point missiles, and this means a feeling of progress.”

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Cartoon attributed to Seyed Mohammedrezamiri (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. Ahmad Yassin (top, described by the poster as a “Martyr Shaikh”) was the founder of Hamas.  Emad Mughniyeh (far right, described by the poster as a “Martyr”) was the longtime chief of terrorist operations for Lebanese Hezbollah.

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Cartoon attributed to Mitra Derakhshandeh (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon. The text shown in Persian and in English are effectively the same.

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Cartoon attributed to Massoud Nejabati (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

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Cartoon attributed to Sadegh Lotfizadeh (Iran), published on January 1, 2021 by Iranian House of Cartoon.

State-Sponsored Propaganda

In 2016, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tried to fend off criticism over his country’s second major international cartoon contest that encouraged Holocaust denial by claiming that the Iranian government did not support, endorse, control, or organize the event.  His claim was widely debunked at the time, and again this time around it is clear that the effort is state supported.

The two cartoon contests this year were both organized by one of the same individuals and institutions that organized the last one: the Arts Zone division of Iran’s Islamic Propagation Organization (which reports directly to the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) as well as an individual named Masoud Shojaei-Tabatabai, who runs one of Arts Zone’s departments as well as the Iranian House of Cartoon, which at least in past years has identified itself as being sponsored by the Municipality of Tehran. 

As ADL documented in October, Shojaei-Tabatabai announced his original plans for the contest on a program run by Khamenei’s personal website.  He also promoted both events extensively through Mehr News Agency in Persian and Tehran News in English, both of which are also divisions of Iran’s Islamic Propagation Organization, whose chair is appointed by Khamenei.  When The Lies of the Holocaust was organized on short notice in October, it was to provide materials for use at threatening demonstrations outside the French Embassy in Tehran, which was organized by university divisions of the Basij, which according to the U.S. Government is subordinate to IRGC and also coordinates closely with Khamenei’s son in his personal office.

As such, this barrage of incitement is not just the work of some uncouth nongovernmental agitators.  It is part of an ongoing campaign of state-sponsored propaganda that helps fuel bigotry and terrorism around the world. 

And it is up to all governments, not just civil society, to push back appropriately.

David Andrew Weinberg is ADL’s Washington Director for International Affairs.